Celebrating Love in Another Time! A blog discussing timeless lovers throughout history, myth, legend and literature.
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Serialized Sunday: The Gypsy's Curse Rough Draft
Hello everyone, If you've been following this blog, you're aware that I do a free chapter of my WIP every Sunday, in an event called Serialiced Sundays. I'm featuring a work that I've been trying to finish for some time, in the hope that by posting my progress each week I'll be held accountable, sort of like Dean Wesley Smith is doing with his Writing in Public posts.
Here is the next installment of The Gypsy's Curse, Paranormal, Historical Romance set in Regency England. The heroine is a gypsy accused of foul things that are not true. She is in hiding, in an empty manor house. The hero is a wealthy merchant's son who owns the house, and has a few problems of his own, one of them being a werewolf. Ah, did I mention recently that I love, Love, LOVE a good Gothic Romance? Well, here's my latest effort on that front:
Copyright Lily Silver 2013
The main floor of the manor house was harder to navigate than the second floor
There were twists and turns that led one astray, much
like a garden maze. Zara meandered about the grey halls, peeking into rooms
until she despaired ever finding the kitchen.
After several false starts and turning back to retrace her steps, she finally
encountered the ancient chamber. It was huge, with low beamed ceilings and
stone flooring that gave it a cave-like appearance. She stood in the center of
it, clutching her bag to her chest, just staring at the huge fireplace
taking up one wall. It was unlike anything she had ever seen before. She set
her bag down on the stone floor and stepped close to the massive opening.
Crouching slightly so she didn’t hit her head on the low mantel, she tiptoed
into the large, clean stone chamber that made up the fireplace. It was nearly
the same size as the interior of a caravan wagon.
The ironwork gratings had to have been created to specification to fit this enormous
hearth. She could only imagine the gigantic feasts that must have been prepared
here centuries ago. It almost seemed as if this house had been built around an
old castle. The kitchen and the rooms adjacent to it were made of ancient
stone, including the window and door frames.
She stepped out of the cavernous fireplace. Zara was
intimidated by the prospect of starting a fire here. She’d have to find another
room, one with a more manageable hearth in which to set up her camp. Still, the
large stone chamber was a wonder to behold. The windows were mullioned, like in
the old castles she’d seen during the caravan’s travels. Uncle Lothar marveled at the Gadje’s penchant for building newer
and bigger right over the old. He loved pointing out the differences of styles
within one home to her as they sat in the wagon seat watching the countryside
move slowly by. What would her uncle make of this place? An ancient monk's
abbey that might have been converted into a garrison by the conquering Normans
and then transformed into a residence when the Saxons had been subdued by their
The unguarded thought awakened a fierce choking sensation.
With tight lips to contain the aching emptiness, Zara turned away from the
great fireplace and her fanciful daydreaming to apply herself to a more
practical task; finding food.
For an empty house, the larder was surprisingly well stocked
with all manner of dry goods. She found dried beans, some hairy onions, a few
cabbages, carrots and potatoes from the garden, flour, sugar, oil, tea and a
generous store of berry preserves. The basement storeroom had a smoked ham
hanging from the rafters, along with a side of fresh venison. She unwrapped the
ham, cut a small piece from it, and then re-wrapped it carefully so her intrusion
would not be noticed. The cottagers must keep food on hand in anticipation of
their lord’s hasty visit and make use of it themselves before it spoiled, and
keep replacing the stores throughout the winter. Ah, the wealthy Gadje had
their hirelings well trained, like dogs who eagerly traipsed behind the master,
anticipating a few crumbs tumbling to the floor for them to devour as a reward
for their faithfulness. Stupid, docile beasts. They’d be better off looking
after themselves first and finding ways to profit from their dealings with the
idle rich, like the gypsies did.
After choosing a few root vegetables to cook in a stew, she
rummaged about the kitchen for a small cooking pan and a bowl that she could
use to soak her injured hand. She had to make a poultice of comfrey leaves and
goldenseal to draw out the infection and she would need hot water to cleanse
the wound and let it soak for a time before re-bandaging it. Her bag was
already too full with the vegetables and the meat so she looked about the kitchen
for a basket in which to place the two pots and the bowl in.
The larder gave her what she was searching for. Satisfied
that she had gleaned the makings for a good earthy stew, Zara set her bag and
the reed basket on the counter and searched for a water pitcher. She’d have to
step outside for a short time to get water from the well in the kitchen
courtyard and to grab a few sticks of firewood from the pile near the door. She
didn’t relish leaving the protection of the manse as she gazed out the mullioned
windows overlooking the back courtyard. The wind was wiping the trees as if
they had offered it deep offense. The rain sloshing down the windows looked
like it could freeze at any moment.
There was no use for it. She might be able to stick a pan
out the door and have it filled with water easily, but the firewood was another
matter. Of course, it would be soaked, and thus, it would not light. There had
to be some inside, hadn?t there? She gazed about the grey stone kitchen. There
was a tinder box above the massive hearth on the mantle shelf. A metal box of
sulpher sticks, a recent Gadje invention that seemed practical, for once. She
took a handful of the sulpher sticks and put them in her pocket. The tinder in
the box was low, just a few shreds of yarn and some wood shavings. Well, she?d
claim it. Who ever came to light a fire for the master when he returned would
just have to improvise.
The dry wood was going to be problem. There had to be
something in here, a few twigs stowed away, a few dry pieces, for pity’s sake.
She checked the heavy oak door with the pointed archway, the doorknob gave way
and the bolt clicked with just a twist of the wrist. Whatever was in here wasn’t
considered too precious, if they didn’t bother to lock it. No silver, she gathered,
as she stepped into the small enclosure. It was little more than a closet, a
pantry that didn’t hold food. Oh yes, the butler’s pantry, the Widow Kendall
had told her of those curious little closets that held precious items the head
servant of the house needed to keep the master and mistress happy. Widow
Kendall had been in service and her husband had been an under butler in a great
house many years ago.
She wished she had a candle so she could see what was on the shelves. The light
from the large mullion windows behind her didn’t penetrate the dark cubby. She
felt among the shelf, and withdrew a dusty bottle. The label said ‘Claret’, if
she were right, it was some kind of wine. She took it and closed the small
cupboard. As she leaned her hip against the door to make it latch, her eyes
fell upon the odd cabinet just below the windowsill to her right. The cabinet
itself was rectangular in shape, but the wooden top was built tilted at an
angle like a deep slope on a hillside. There was a handle on the bottom, and
hinges on the top. She lifted it, and nearly squealed her delight wood! Dry
wood. There would be warm fire and some good stew tonight. As soon as she
found a safe room to conceal her trespass.
Unwilling to leave her prizes on the counter, lest someone come in the kitchen
door and discover the intrusion, she swung the heavy laden bag over her
shoulder, placed the wine bottle and a few small pieces of wood in the basket,
and moved toward the interior door that led her to this wonderful old room. She
didn’t relish wandering amid the dark halls again, but now that she had food
and fuel she must find a small room in which to set up camp. She’d come back
here later for the water, as she couldn’t manage to carry another stick, let alone
a full pitcher.
It took Zara nearly an hour to find that one isolated, lonely room that would
be her campsite for the night. It was at the end of a long sequence of hallways
and turns, an interior parlor that appeared to be abandoned. Ignoring the
glowing white shrouds of furniture that rose up from the dark gloom, she set
her gear near the fireplace before shutting the door. Once the door was closed,
she’d have no window light to guide her in the small room. She remembered the
sulfur sticks she found in the kitchen and put in her pocket as she looked
about for a candle. A single brass candlestick was on the mantle shelf, with a
half burned candle still in it.
It didn’t take long for Zara to get her camp fire going in the fireplace. The
small hearth was very cozy, just right for her purposes. She set up her bed
roll and sat on the floor. After removing the riding boots, she sat with her
legs crossed at the ankles and jutting out from her hips in a manner the Widow
had always chided as unladylike. She pulled up her skirt to the knees, and
admired the red silk stockings in the firelight. They made her feel pretty.
Just knowing they were there, beneath her skirts brought a sizzle of pleasure
and a quick smile to her lips. Oh, she’d managed to grab a pair of serviceable
woolens, too. Those were in her knapsack.
Once the fire was going steady, she returned to the kitchen for water. While
her simple stew cooked she tended her hand. Upon removing the bandages, she
winced at the angry color of her skin where the flesh was parted. Infection was
setting in. Three days since the injury, and despite her best efforts while on
the run the wound was not healing as it should. She grimaced at the pain and
rummaged through her sack with her good hand for the comfrey leaves and
powdered goldenseal she kept there. A paste of those two herbs, along with a
good soak in some hot water should work well in reversing the infection.
As the sun began to set, Zara relaxed after a cup of tea and some vegetable
stew. She didn’t put the chunk of ham in the pot but instead kept it stashed in
her pack for the days ahead. She’d need some substance while travelling. She
set a couple of potatoes near the flame of the hearth but not close enough to
burn them, just enough to bake them through. Those she intended to pack in her
bag for the journey ahead, along with the ham. Some bread would be nice, but
she didn’t want to mess up the kitchen by trying to make it and go through the
proofing and rising. Alas, it was not to be.
At least she had the bottle of wine. That would go a long way toward lifting
her spirits and keeping her warm on this chill winters eve. Tomorrow, she would
set out again toward the east, putting more miles between herself and the angry
villagers who hunted her for the old woman’s murderer.
Zara went over the scene again in her mind as she sipped the wine and gazed
into the fire. She’d gone to bed that night in the attic room, where the widow’s
daughter had slept until her marriage. She didn’t remember anything until she
awakened later in the parlor in her night clothes, with two bodies in the room
beside her. The widow, a sweet, gentle creature, had been slaughtered like an
animal. It was horrifying to think that anyone would want to harm the gentle
old woman. The widow’s nephew was lying near the door. He was badly mutilated.
She didn’t recall his being at the cottage when she went to bed that night.
What was that wicked man doing in the widow’s parlor in the middle of the
A chill went through her despite the warmth of the flames and the fire of wine
spreading through her belly. Something wasn’t right. There was something, just
beyond her memory that nagged at her. Jasper was a pig, a repulsive man who
seemed to think his aunt was crazy. He kept claiming he’d commit her if she
didn’t give him what he wanted. He wanted the deed to the farm. He believed the
old woman owed it to him and she should just turn her home over to him. He
believed his aunt had money hidden away, lots of money. He was the crazy one.
There was something else . . . a horrible howling came from
outside the farmhouse that night . . . a nerve shredding cry that was unlike
anything she?d ever heard before living in the woods. It wasn’t an animal cry.
It was the cry of a demon, a hound from the depths of hell.
The memory brought shivers and a sick feeling in the pit of
her stomach. She reached for her uncle’s big hunting knife. The wind outside
the manor made eerie, keening noises. Lothar’s knife seemed smaller as she
listened to the mournful wind. And somehow, this big, empty manor house was not
as comforting to be in all alone at night as it was during the daylight hours.
* * *
Stephan turned Maggie over to his valet when she arrived the next morning. He
asked Brisbane to befriend the girl and try to find out why she had been at
Covenant Gardens that night and what she might have seen when she found him
As the carriage drew away from Grosvenor Square Stephan gazed out at the city.
This was not the first murder in the past weeks that had ripped the headlines.
Nor was it the first time he?d grappled with the growing presentiment that he
might be the perpetrator. Each murder reported in the papers coincided with one
of his blackouts. Each time he awakened, he had the disgustingly sweet taste of
blood in his mouth. Ten unsolved murders had taken place during his two month
stay in London. That was a lot of bodies. He thought it best to leave the city
before he found himself in a situation that would shame his family and sully
the name of St. John forever. He couldn’t help but wonder if leaving the city
were wise. No matter where he went, if he were indeed the one responsible for
the murders, death would surely follow him.
had been rife with speculation regarding the murders. It was rumored that a
beast had killed the last couple, not a man or group of men. The rumor was
substantiated when the physician examining the bodies said no knife could do
such damage, that the slashes on the woman’s torso more closely resembled the
rough claws of an animal; a wolf or perhaps a bear. The difficulty remained in
that assessment as there couldn't be a wolf stalking the city streets, nor had
any animals escaped from the London zoo recently.
Stephan had his own hypothesis, one that defied reason. He believed the animal
responsible was within himself. And he was leaving London before anyone could
make the connection between the murders and his aimless wandering of the city
streets in the midnight hours. James Hadley, Lord Cavendish, had been no help
in the matter. James had no head for liquor, he reminded Stephan grimly of that
fact when asked about the events of that particular night. He did not recall
anything more than Stephan had about their wanderings that night. Like Stephan,
he did not recall how he made it back to his home. He simply awakened in his
bed the next morning, hung over like his companion. Unlike Stephan, however,
James Hadley did not harbor any nagging fears that he may have committed
unspeakable and heinous acts during his memory lapse.
The slow progress of the coach was something Stephan couldn’t fix. They would
be traveling for several days before they reached the Lake District, and that
was with good weather. The roads were usually not bad at this time of year. It
was too early to snow and if the rains held off they’d be at Huntingdon Abbey
by the end of the week.
Stephan ordered Maggie to sit outside, up with the coachman for this stretch.
The weather was tolerable. The sun was out and it wasn’t cold. Having taken her
under his wing to be a servant and perhaps saving her from falling into prostitution
in the streets due to her desperate situation, he felt there was no need to
pamper the girl and give her the impression he was her guardian instead of her
employer. Brisbane sat opposite him, and like Stephan, had the foresight to
have chosen a thick volume to occupy the time. They would be stopping at
a posting house for luncheon and to rest the horses, and then they would make
their way to the Inn in Haversham for the night.
He did not
understand why he let himself be hoodwinked into taking the girl on as he had.
He could have given her a few guineas for helping him and sent her on her way.
He must be getting soft, he decided, as he stared out the coach window at the
And yet, there was also
something to be said for removing the witness from the scene of the crime. The
London constables would not trouble themselves to travel 120 miles north just
to question an adolescent girl of little consequence about what she may have
witnessed on the night of the latest murders. Perhaps he wasn’t so soft after
all, merely shrewd.